Mar 26, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) goes up for a layup past Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) in the second half at Target Center. the Jazz won 93-84. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
The Utah Jazz are expected to make some major noise in the Northwest Division this season, but how will the season series with divisional foes play out?
We are finally nearing tip-off time for the 2016-17 NBA season. And for the first time since the days of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, the Utah Jazz are expected to be players in the Western Conference. More specifically, in the Northwest Division, where the Portland Trail Balzers and the Oklahoma City Thunder have reigned supreme.
While divisional races no longer garner the same level of attention they once did in the NBA, there is a game within the game when it comes to divisional rivalry.
With the season fast approaching, there’s no time like the present to take a look at the competition in the Northwest Division and how the Jazz will fare against its other teams.
The Northwest Division consists of the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, OKC, PDX and the Jazz-band from Utah, listed in the alphabetical order of their location. Incidentally, I expect these five teams will finish in the reverse alphabetical order, with Jazz topping the division.
But how will the season series shake out between the Jazz and their Northwestern rivals? Here’s how I see it shaking out…
Nov 4, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) dribbles the ball around Utah Jazz guard Raul Neto (25) during the first quarter at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Portland Trail Blazers
Home Games: February 15 and April 04
Away Games: October 25 and April 08.
The biggest challenge for Jazz in Northwest Division would have to be Portland. The Trail Blazers surprised a lot of people last year with their all-around game. This year it’s the Jazz looking to turn heads.
The Jazz open both their preseason (October 3) and regular season (October 25) in Portland. I expect this rivalry to go on throughout the season, with the Blazers and the Jazz jostling for playoff position.
Festus Ezeli will provide much-needed big man depth for Portland. However, their team will go as far as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum take them; the Jazz will have a tough task on their hands in attempting to contain the dynamic scoring duo.
However, with Dante Exum back and George Hill on board, the Jazz have immensely strengthened their backcourt defense and should be able to defend much better against Portland’s gunners than they did last season.
During his tenure, Terry Stotts has astutely forced the Jazz to try and beat his team from the outside. With Hill, Hood, Hayward and Johnson, the Jazz can now roll out a lineup to break this strategy with ease.
Couch Coach Tip: Jazz coach Quin Snyder could be well-served by posting up Rodney Hood and George Hill against C.J. and Dame. McCollum is an undersized shooting guard, and Hood is a supersized shooting guard. Hill is also more than capable as a post player. By pounding the ball inside, the Jazz can make Portland’s stars work on both ends of the floor.
Nov 18, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) warms up prior to the game against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder
Home Games: December 14 and January 23.
Away Games: February 28 and March 11
The Return of the Underkanter — is this still a thing? With the departure of Kevin Durant, OKC loses the matchup for which the Jazz had no answer. While Russell Westbrook is a beast and still difficult to contain, the loss of KD makes it easier for the Jazz (and every other team) to scheme for the Thunder.
Mar 30, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) blocks Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins (22) in the second quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Minnesota Timberwolves
Away Games: November 28 and January 07
Home Games: March 01 and April 07.
The Jazz versus the Timberwolves is all set to be the rivalry of future. Not just within the division, but the conference at large.
We’re talking two young, defensive-minded teams with explosive up-and-coming talents. Two talented coaches who are responsible for instilling that defensive mindset and will hold their players accountable.
The two teams match up very well, but Utah’s experience will help them to win this series this year.
In the years to come, though, things could get really, really interesting.
Couch Coach Tip: Coach Quin can pull a Terry Scotts on the Timberwolves and challenge them to beat the Jazz from outside of the paint. The Timberwolves are talented, but their guards are anemic shooters.
Apr 10, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) dribbles the ball against Utah Jazz forward Trey Lyles (41) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. The Jazz defeated the Nuggets 100-84. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Against the Denver Nuggets
Away Games: November 20 and January 24
Home Games: November 23 and December 03.
The Battle of the Rocky Mountains. This yesteryear rivalry has lost its shine in recent years, due to the lottery status of both the franchises. Nevertheless, an injury-free Danio Gallinari and second-year point guard Emmanuel Mudiay will still provide a challenge for Gordon Hayward and the Jazz.
Still, the Jazz undoubtedly hold the advantage.
They should be able to defend the Nuggets’ sophomore sensation Mudiay with their supersized point guards and Denver’s front line can do little to challenge the twin towers of the Jazz.